Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, Winter/Spring 2017
On the eve of the millennium, earth scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer coined the term “the Anthropocene” – the time of humans – to name our current age, reflecting apocalyptic anxieties that nothing on planet Earth seems to be beyond the reach of human industry and interference. In the nearly two decades since, the Anthropocene has ironically come to connote a way of thinking about the climactic, labor, financial, and population problems of our time that decenters the privileged ontological status of humans and human agency. This class will survey the critiques of inequality, Enlightenment philosophy, and environmental exploitation enabled by anthropocenic thinking in social theory in a variety of disciplines.
Many of these arguments, such as those proposed by geographer Jason Moore and political theorists Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, are rooted in Marxian concerns about the exploitation of laborers, non-human critters, and the very geological materials of the earth, as well as concern about the future of work in an increasingly automated human economy. Perhaps, these theorists suggest, we might even do better to call our age the “capitalocene” – the Age of Capitalism. Others, like feminist philosopher of science Donna Haraway and historian Timothy Mitchell, use tools like multispecies ethnography and Actor-Network Theory to attend to how the material and ethical entanglement of humans, non-humans (from microbes to mosquitoes to mushrooms to dogs), and non-living things demonstrates that human needs are but one piece of life in the Anthropocene. Through their collective work, the authors we will read will suggest that neither scientific authority nor cultural relativism is enough to map a way forward for life on Earth. Instead, they offer new ways to think about labor, time, ecology, society, and the privileged category of the human that will help us we might flourish in the Anthropocene.